My article was originally published here on the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine website.
A major collection of probate records has been published by Ancestry.co.uk, spanning five centuries.
The England and Wales Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) Wills collection showcases original images of wills dating from 1384-1858, which were previously available to download for a fee on the The National Archives website.
The PCC approved will probates with asset value of more than £5, equivalent to £526 today, primarily written by the middle and upper classes.
The documents contain information about properties, family members, occupations and standards of living.
The index is searchable by name, probate date, residence, estimated death year and keyword, with the option to browse individual records, as well as the wills of selected famous persons (divided into the years 1552-1679, 1680-1746, 1750-1809, and 1811-1849).
The final wishes of several reigning monarchs and royal consorts are featured, such as Queen Victoria’s aunt Queen Adelaide, for whom the capital of South Australia was named, as well as other leading British figures like Oliver Cromwell, Lord Horatio Nelson and Jane Austen.
William Pitt the Elder, a noted politician in his day, left £5,250 to his two sons and £1,750 to his daughter, now almost one million pounds, while William Shakespeare left his “second best bed” to his wife Anne Hathaway.
The collection also includes the last will and testament of boys from the age of 14 and girls as young as 12, although the law was changed in 1837 to ensure only people over 21 could be testators.
“These probate records provide fascinating insight into the final fortunes of some of our nation’s most famous names, right down to who should get their bed,” said Ancestry.co.uk’s International Content Director, Miriam Silverman.
“They are an incredibly valuable family history resource, covering a period in history from which few official documents remain.”